At BMCC, more than 50% of our classes are taught by adjuncts. As much as departments may have structures in place to support and enhance adjunct pedagogy and training, there’s not much available in terms of building pathways toward more stable careers, perhaps even full-time academic work. This contributes to a growing divide in the two-tier system, and also prevents us from passing on our own hard-earned skills and tips for the job market and academic publishing to newer colleagues and grad students in search of full-time work. Since the success of our departments depends on the crucial work of part-time faculty, we need to create a space where their concerns about their careers are heard and validated. To address this lack, and hopefully to spark a new trend across BMCC departments, the Graduate Student and Early-Career Support (GSECS) committee was formed in the English department in Fall 2019.
Of course, no single committee is going to fix the structural issues underlying the two-tier system. But we can advance a culture of transparency and community between adjuncts and full-timers, and take heart in the recently passed state budget, a vast improvement on recent years which may reactivate formerly frozen positions and create more full-time lines.
Every semester, GSECS hosts an event related to career advancement, inviting guest speakers to share their wisdom, as GSECS presenters lead discussions on issues most relevant to early-career academics. In the Fall of 2020, we held our first workshop of the year, “Publishing in a Pandemic,” which focused on publishing both in and outside academia. Guest speakers Geoffrey Klock and Francisco Delgado of the English department shared their own experiences publishing across multiple venues, and both offered wisdom about how various kinds of publications (articles, books, fiction, poetry) can be used to climb the academic and professional ranks. GSECS members Mira Zaman and John Hodgkins also covered some practical guidelines for publications, such as demystifying the peer-review process, navigating Wiki-pages, and responding to reviewers’ commentary. After the event, all attendees were given a “Publishing Toolkit” with a ton of practical tips, helpful links, and a list of field-specific journals.
Following up on that session, in April the committee held a session on “Navigating the Academic Job Market: Pandemic Edition” featuring guest speakers A. Martini, Associate Director of Admissions at the Graduate Center, and (once again) Francisco Delgado, a member of the P&B Committee in BMCC’s English department. This panel began by opening the floor for adjuncts to discuss their concerns about the new terrain of the pandemic-era job market. Our panel included presentations on what post-pandemic search committees might look for in candidates as well as the value of considering “alt-ac” careers or positions outside of the traditional academic track. We also offered practical pro-tips for optimizing cover letters, such as the sample slide shown below. As with the first workshop, all attendees received a “Job Market Toolkit” after the session.
In addition to these bi-annual events, GSECS also offers a career mentorship program, in which adjuncts and graduate students are paired with full-time professors in the department. Mentors range from seasoned professors with decades of experience to more recent hires hot off the job market. While mentors and mentees develop their own “curriculum,” mentors offer all kinds of support–from advice on publishing and research to teaching and job materials. GSECS’s current mentors are Professors Charles De Paolo, Robert Zweig, Boyda Johnstone, and Mira Zaman. Mentees include a number of adjuncts from within the English department and, more recently, students and recent graduates from the Graduate Center. The goal for GSECS is to continue expanding its reach by building networks throughout CUNY.
But the first place to start this expansion is within BMCC itself. Our hope is that other departments develop similar initiatives to support graduate students and early-career adjuncts who dedicate so much of their time and energy serving this community. BMCC provides numerous opportunities to support and enrich the careers of full-time faculty, so should we not make a concerted effort to provide similar opportunities for our part-time colleagues? If more departments invest in the careers of part-time faculty, and support their efforts to meet their professional goals, the entire BMCC community and CUNY as a whole will benefit from their success.